Background: Our first cruise in 10 years. We are from Australia and this cruise was part of a month long trip to Europe.
Hotel Info: stayed at the Plaka in the Plaka district of Athens the night before embarkation: reasonably comfortable, air conditioned, old, needs renovation, average breakfast, staff don't care and don't want to help, absurdly tiny elevator. Do not recommend the Athens by Night Tour: lazy and disinterested tour guide, poor quality over-crowded restaurant with inedible food and undrinkable wine. A full scale rip off of the highest order. Do recommend the tours taking you to the main sites of Athens and the Acropolis even though the guide on that tour disappeared on us after having done her perfunctory and rudimentary overview.
The Ship: outstanding in almost every way. Colourful and clean, but too cold. Had to wear sweaters for much of the time even though outside was warm.
Casino: if Texas Hold'em is the most popular poker card in the universe, why only one table. Had to wait inordinately long time to get a place.
Activities: plentiful and varied, although many were cancelled due to lack of numbers.
Service: most of the time outstanding. A few exceptions with some staff barking commands at us as if we were small children. A couple of the wait staff in a couple of the restaurants were trying too hard and, as a result, were intrusive. However, on the whole, everyone was attentive, efficient and seemed to want to do a good job.
Shore Excursions: we booked all of them in advance through NCL. At the time we did not know we were paying much more than you could get them locally. However, doing it in advance meant no waiting in lines, no hassles and no worries - that convenience and freedom from stress has to be worth something. Most of the guides were informative and interested. A couple were hard to understand and hear. Don't be afraid to tell your fellow bus travellers to shut up so you can listen to the guide. There were many rude, inconsiderate and offensive people on the buses.
The main criticism is the lack of time available in each place. For example, the Pyramids was a highlight for us and to be told you have to be back in 20 minutes was disappointing. The could cut out aspects of the Cairo tour to allow more time at the Pyramids. You need to be patient as you will be harassed by very aggressive Egyptians trying to sell you post cards and souvenirs. One dollar, One dollar is the cry.
Stateroom: well laid out and functional. Small bathroom, but that's to be expected. Good sound insulation. Enough wardrobe and drawer space to empty both our very full suitcases. Beds comfortable. Housekeeping staff kept the room clean at all times.
Dining: we only had dinner once in Czars - it was fine and the staff did a good job in getting us fed so we could still get to the show.
Dined at all the specialty restaurants except the Italian. All were good. Cagneys was exceptional, the French one was great, the Teppanyaki was outstanding, the Chinese/Malaysian one was very good. We had no problem at all getting bookings - but we are late diners. If you want to eat at 7 or 7:30 every night, expect to have problems. Entertainment: was OK. The Cirque de Bjiou was great, the rest were not outstanding, but good. In any event, we did not go on the cruise to expect top class entertainment.
Cruise Director: she was fully over the top. Far too intent on promoting herself and showing off her body and wardrobe. She added nothing to the experience and told us nothing we could not read in the daily newsletter. When she tried to tell jokes, they always fell flat. An embarrassment.
Assistant Cruise Director: does not understand what makes good humour. Very pushy and treated passengers as though they were imbeciles.
Drinks: reasonably priced (we are from Australia, and drinks are more expensive here than in the US), but the 15% surcharge takes its toll. Wine list dominated by California. Other parts of the world also make wine!
Disembarkation: smooth as silk. As we did not need help with our bags and were staying in Istanbul for a couple of days, we did not need to pack until the morning and could leave at our leisure. However, recommend booking a car to pick you up as the taxis are small, dirty and the driver is guaranteed to wreck your bags if he possibly can.